Much was made of Wenger’s summer business last year. The “panic buys.” There was criticism of them being too cheap, not good enough for Arsenal. But there was also a bit of back-handed praise, as the signings were older, more mature, more experienced. Wenger had learned his lesson from Cesc and Nasri’s departures, and had completely changed his transfer policy, abandoned his principles.
And they say that it has continued this summer. Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla again around 26 -27 years of age, all recognized and established players. “Ready made” players. The youth policy is definitely over.
Or is it?
Here’s the thing – this is the beginning of Arsenal’s real youth policy. This transfer policy that we have now is what Wenger always wanted. Signing established players, while the youth is promoted from within. We still continue to give youth a chance, but instead of buying players at 18 or 19 and filling our squad up with them, we will focus on homegrown players, and dip into the transfer market to fill in the gaps with established players.
Gibbs, Wilshere, Djourou, Szczesny, Afobe, Aneke, Lansbury, Frimpong, Bartley, are all players to come out of the Arsenal academy. They will all get a fair chance in the first team, but as we cannot rely on them at the moment, or even for all of them to be good enough at all, signings will be made to fill in the gaps in the first team. Hence signings like Arteta, Podolski, Cazorla.
The philosophy is simple: Grow your own players, and only if you need to, reach outside and bring in players that fit your style of play.
But why didn’t make such signings before? A signing like Podolski or Cazorla would be unheard of 2 or 3 years ago, when we were signing players like a 17 year-old Aaron Ramsey and shoving them into the first team straight away.
And that is true, as Chelsea, and later Man City, priced many players out of our reach, and the stadium debt left us slightly short on cash, Wenger focused more on younger signings. But he still signed established players like Arshavin, Gallas and Rosicky, and unknown but experienced players like Eduardo, Sagna, and Hleb. And the bias towards younger signings was always a temporary measure. The goal was still the same – to strike the right balance between grooming young players and signing experience.
Now it seems we’re finally getting the balance right. We “kept the powder dry” last summer as Gazidis said, and we’ve used it well this season to sign the players the squad desperately needs. To be fair, transfers involve a lot of luck and we were lucky this time with Giroud’s laughably low buy-out clause, and the financial mess at Malaga (although we supposedly lost out on Hazard and Kagawa). If the stars hadn’t aligned we might have ended up signing only 17 year-old Niang and people would have accused Wenger of putting too much trust in youth again.